Dubai, the canary in the coal mine?

Everyone thought the financial implosion of the last two years was largely behind us – yet Dubai has reminded us that if nations start defaulting, then it may be about to enter a new and even more frightening phase.

Think of Dubai not so much as the hors d’oeuvre as the pre-dinner canapé, with the starter reserved for larger economies with distressed fiscal positions, such as Greece and Ireland, moving for the main course on to Japan and possibly even Britain and the US…

Across the developed world, public debt is set on an explosive course. According to new estimates by Moody’s, the credit ratings agency, the total stock of sovereign debt worldwide will have risen by more than 50 per cent between the start of the financial crisis in 2007 and the end of next year, to $15.3 trillion.

But this is just the beginning. On current projections, that total is set to rise by at least a further 50 per cent, before finally peaking in four to five years’ time, and then only if governments have by then taken remedial action.

These are uncharted waters, quite without precedent in peacetime.